New legislation in Washington state went into effect this week that legalizes for the first time in ages the possession of marijuana. Federal law still says otherwise, though, setting up the Justice Department to make some serious determinations.
Even as smoking up became protected by state law in Washington starting Thursday, coast-to-coast prohibition as provided by a long-standing federal ruling remains on the books. For marijuana advocates in the Pacific Northwest, the lifting of the ban is a pretty big victory. That doesn’t mean that the Justice Department has ruled out an intervention, though.
Since voters in Washington and Colorado opted on Election Day to legalize small amounts of marijuana for recreational use, the Department of Justice has been relatively quiet over how it will handle what is likely to become a heated debate regarding states’ rights. In an article published by The New York Times this week, reporter Charlie Savage says senior White House and Justice Department officials are already attempting to tackle how to handle the new marijuana laws, and are amid deliberations right now that will determine when, where and how national law enforcement can intervene.
Savage cites anonymous sources familiar with the discussions in DC, whom he says are considering plans for legal action against the states of Colorado and Washington. Meanwhile this week the Obama administration once again chimed in on the topic, but as with earlier abbreviated statements, the only words out of the nation’s capital forecast an ominous battle likely to brew for some time.
When the results of the legislations up for vote in both states trickled through on the evening of Election Day, the Justice Department dispatched a short statement clarifying the federal classification of marijuana as an illegal substance. This week, the United States attorney for Seattle, WA once again warned that federal law is still on the books.
“In enacting the Controlled Substances Act, Congress determined that marijuana is a Schedule I controlled substance,” state attorney Jenny A. Durkan announced in a statement. “Regardless of any changes in state law, including the change that will go into effect on December 6 in Washington State, growing, selling or possessing any amount of marijuana remains illegal under federal law.”
Additionally, the New York Times quotes Durkan as saying the Justice Department maintains that its“responsibility to enforce the Controlled Substances Act remains unchanged,” meaning federal law enforcement isn’t necessarily interested in adhering to local rules.